heaven. It's a huge place, and walking between the various exhibits will take some time, but
despite this the layout is actually quite simple: displays on Beijing are in the cube , cultural
relics in the cylinder . If you're short on time or energy, skip the cube and head for the rarer
pieces in the cylinder instead.
The cylinder's ground-floor gallery holds Ming and Qing paintings , mostly landscapes -
graphy upstairs can be safely missed unless you have a special interest, but the bronzes on
level three are pretty interesting: a sinister third-century-BC owl-headed dagger, for example,
or the strangely modern-looking (though actually more than 3000 years old) three-legged
cooking vessels decorated with geometric patterns. The display of jade on the fourth floor is
definitely worth lingering over. The qualities that combine to create the best jade is an eso-
teric subject - it's all about colour, lustre and clarity - but anyone can appreciate the work-
manship that has gone into the buckles, boxes and knick-knacks here; the white quail-shaped
vessels are particularly lovely.
The cube of exhibition halls on the building's west side can be navigated rather more quickly.
The bottom level hosts a confusing and disappointing show on the historyofBeijing : exhib-
its are jumbled together - a modern lathe is displayed next to a stele, for example - without
enough English captions to make any sense of the showcase at all. The next level up displays
models of historical buildings, which can be skipped in favour of the show-stealing Buddhist
figurines on the top floor. As well as depictions of serene long-eared gentlemen, there are
some very esoteric Lamaist figures from Tibet; the goddess Marici, for example, comes with
her own pig-drawn chariot and other fierce deities have lion heads or many arms.
白云观 , báiyún gùan • Off Baiyun Lu • Daily 8.30am-4.30pm • ￥ 10 • 010 63463531 • Muxidi subway (line
Once the most influential Taoist centre in the country, Baiyun Guan (White Cloud Temple)
is well worth hunting down. It was renovated after a long spell as a barracks during commun-
with a busy, thriving feel, it's at its most colourful during the Chinese New Year temple fair.
Though laid out in a similar way to a Buddhist temple, Baiyun Guan has a few distinctive
features, such as the three gateways at the entrance, symbolizing the three states of Taoism -
desire, substance and emptiness. Each hall is dedicated to a different deity, whose respective
domains of influence are explained in English outside; the thickest plumes of incense emerge
from the hall to the gods of wealth. The eastern and western halls hold a great collection of
Taoist relics, including some horrific paintings of hell showing people being sawn in half.